Category Archives: preaching

Kurt Marquart on Preaching Law and Gospel

Lest I be misunderstood, let me make some things very clear. I am not advocating that we as truly evangelical preachers should imitate Calvinism or so-called “Evangelicalism”. The main use of the law is that which shows us our sin. And the Gospel, not the Law in any of its uses, must predominate in our preaching. Like humane physicians we must stress the diagnosis not for its own sake, but for the sake of the cure, and then concentrate on the glorious treasures of the love of God, poured out upon us so superabundantly in His blessed Son! It is our task to preach the love and joy of God into people’s hearts. But then we must also guide them towards God-pleasing expressions of their responding love for God. And in our non-sacramental age, in which all sorts of sacrament-substitutes flourish, such as alleged tongues and miracles, millennialist fantasies about Middle Eastern places and politics, “purpose-driven” psycho-babble, and the like, we must hold high the glory of the Gospel, which is “the power [dynamis] of God for salvation'” (Romans 1:16). Our preaching needs to serve and communicate the three permanent witnesses on earth, the spirit (or the blessed Gospel words which are spirit and life, St. John 6:63), the water of Holy Baptism, and the Blood of the New Testament, 1 John 5:8. It is through these blessed Gospel-channels that the divine life of faith is transmitted to us sinners.

“The Third Use of the Law in the Formula of Concord”, from “You, My People, Shall Be Holy: A Festschrift in Honour of John W. Kleinig”, pages 122-123



God Give You A Mouth And Your Audience Ears

If Peter and Paul were here, they would scold you because you wish right off to be as accomplished as they. Crawling is something, even if one is unable to walk. Do your best. If you can’t preach an hour, then preach a half hour or a quarter of an hour. do not try to imitate other people. Center on the shortest and simplest points, which are the very heart of the matter and leave the rest to God. Look solely to His honor and not to applause. Pray that God will give you a mouth and to your audience ears…. You will most certainly find out three things: First you will have prepared your sermon as diligently as you know how, and it will slip through your fingers like water; secondly, you may abandon your outline and God will give you grace, You will preach your very best. The audience will be pleased – but you won’t. And thirdly, when you have been unable in advance to pull anything together, you will preach acceptably both to your hearers and to yourself. So pray to God and leave all the rest to him.

Martin Luther, Tischreden 2:2606-2607

Four Features of the Sermon As Absolution

If we consider the unconditional word of absolution as the basic word, model and matrix of an evangelical sermon, then there are four decisive features that make this sermon stand out. These features have to do with grammar and pragmatics. 1. The sermon is not a discourse in the third person about something but an address in the second person, where an “I” addresses a “you.” 2. The verb is formulated in the present tense or in the present perfect (Note: The relation between the present and present perfect corresponds to the correlation between what was “won” and what is “distributed”). 3. The performative verb used in the present or present perfect is semantically and pragmatically that of “promise” – a valid promise with immediate effect; it creates community. 4. The “I” of the preacher who speaks legitimates itself, implicitly or explicitly, as authorized to make this promise – like the prophet with the message formula, “thus says the Lord:…” The preacher is an authorized representative who stands in the place of his Lord and is authorized and empowered to speak on his behalf. The divine service is begun and continued in the name of the triune God. Baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper are celebrated in this name. The sermon is delivered in this name. And the preacher hears and takes to heart the trinitarian blessing promised by the words that many pastors use to greet the congregation before the sermon: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:13).

Oswald Bayer, “Preaching the Word”, from Justification Is For Preaching, pages 202-203

Preaching Is God’s Audible Address to Sinners

The uniqueness of Luther’s theology of preaching lies in that preaching is not mere human speech about God; rather it is God’s own speech to people, which corresponds to God’s own action. God’s word acts and thus accomplishes his will, but through the agency of human speech. Preaching then is not the preacher’s discursive reflection about God and life, an exercise distinctive of the custom of the university, but is God’s audible address to sinners in need so that he might confer good on them, and clothe them with Christ’s righteousness. The preacher speaks and, in his speaking, the justifying action of God is accomplished. God creates through his opposite (i.e., the preacher) the object of his love – a people no longer under divine wrath. Preaching is not a rehashing of the old stories, nor is it a memorial speech about God’s deeds. [Gustaf] Wingren’s words elucidate Luther’s view:

[P]reaching, in so far as it is Biblical preaching, is God’s own speech to men, is very difficult to maintain in practice. Instead it is very easy to slip into the idea that preaching is only speech about God. Such a slip, once made, gradually alters the picture of God, so that he becomes the far-off deistic God who is remote from the preached word and is only spoken about as we speak about someone who is absent.

Dennis Ngien, “Luther As A Spiritual Adviser”, pages 157-158. Wingren quote from “The Living Word”, page 19.

Tagged , , ,

What A Preacher Sees After the Sermon

As I said, when I preach something [purely grace-focused], I get two reactions. At the end of the sermon, I see smiles. I see faces light up – faces which, in spite of a lifetime’s exposure to the doctrine of grace, seem for the first time to dare to hope that maybe there isn’t a catch to it after all, that even out of the midst of their worst shipwrecks they are still going home free for the pure and simple reason that Jesus calls them. I see barely restrained hilarity at the sudden perception that he really meant it when he said his yoke is easy and his burden light.

But after the sermon, in the time it takes to get downstairs to coffee hour, the smiles have been replaced by frowns. Their fear of the catch has caught up with them again, and they surround the messenger of hope and accuse me of making the world unsafe for morality.

I propose, therefore, that you and I stop our progress at this point and do justice to the frowning, coffee-hour mood that my parable of grace has put you in.

– Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace

Tagged , , ,

Do the Text to the Hearer – Notes from a Presentation by Pastor Donavon Riley

Pastor Donavon Riley spoke to the Northern Illinois District South Region Pastors Conference in September of 2013. Here are the notes I took from his presentation on Preaching to the Bound Will. These are my notes and may/not accurately reflect Pr. Riley’s lectures.

  • The bound will is a Peeping Tom.
  • Forgiveness is the power the Law does not have.
  • The Preaching Office is His choice to establish, not yours.
  • You’re baptized. Now what? The Old Man gets preached to death. (Romans 6 [Baptism] -> Romans 7 [Die daily to sin])
  • The Third Function of the Law instructs man to death.
  • We don’t tell God who He is, He tells us.
  • The fundamental problem today in theology is that it throws faith back to the individual.
  • The grammar of justification: 1. God is the Subject, 2. Sinners are the Objects. 3. No conditions -> No ifs or buts (Unconditional promise), 4. Right application of pronouns -> FOR YOU. (Present tense pronouns).
  • The Law wants you to do the Law without the Law.
  • Every Sunday’s sermon is a funeral sermon. Your people are dead people. Now what? Live in your vocation and thank God for your neighbor.
  • Suffering is the sinners’ problem with the death of Jesus. The sinner doesn’t want to believe it.
  • Christ must be preached to real, actual, historical sinners. Be a know-nothing. Preach Christ (1 Corinthians 4).
  • Chesed (חסד) means faithful loving-kindness. It is not if -> then, but because -> therefore.
  • God in Christ is too near to those who try to be “good Christian people”.
  • The witness of Christ will not be silent. The Church’s witness to Christ is the Holy Spirit.
  • If you preach to free wills, you bind them. If you preach to bound wills, you free them.
  • The thing that makes Lutheran preaching Lutheran preaching is the preaching of Christ FOR YOU.
  • God only wants to be revealed and preached in Jesus Christ and what He says and does FOR YOU.
  • The point of Christianity for Pietists is “What are you doing?”
  • Non-Lutheran communions believe that human beings, the human soul, is not dead. The will can “climb the ladder” to help God in salvation. Sin is a sickness. Grace is the medicine. You restored to health can go your merry way.
  • You don’t talk about being cursed. You talk about being a curse.
  • Every pastor secretly believes he is a fraud.
  • When Eve ate the fruit, she fell upward.
  • Bound will: I want what I want when I want it. ANARCHISM. You don’t want a Creator, you want to be a creator.
  • God’s wrath feels like free will.
  • When someone is forgiven, we don’t sing “In the Garden”.
  • I do nothing for my justification because I know nothing but Jesus Christ and receive everything by faith in Christ.
  • Repentance is the death rattle of a corpse.
  • Do the text to the hearer.
  • What happened when God’s Word when out to His hearers? What disturbed the Word in the text? What is the resistance? What did God do to these sinners? Law -> Gospel/Resistance -> Promise
  • Take away all choices in preaching. Whittle it down. Give man no opportunity to claim anything for himself. KILL HIM! Then preach him back to life by proclaiming what God has done for them. Again, no choices. PROCLAIM MONERGISM!


Tagged ,

Law, Gospel, What Next?

But let the Law do its work, and let the Gospel follow; then we face another strategic question – what should come next? A popular answer, offered by some of the really big names in LCMS history, is that you go back to the Law! “Sanctification,” some call it! “Evangelical admonition,” others say! Still others refer to “Gospel imperatives,” and yet more point to the “Third Use of the Law.” And all of the above are ready to label as “antinomian” those of us who say “no!” to these answers, however worded. Be assured that I believe in the third use of the Law, precisely and especially in the sense that it is discussed in FC VI, namely, that the third use is one of the ways in which God uses the Law….

Two things need to be noted, as we discern what should come after the Gospel. First, what many people want, and what many pastors deliver, is NOT the third use of the Law, which is purely informative in nature, indicative and not imperative. Rather, many people want and many pastors deliver the first use of the Law! What they desire is the law which modifies behavior, by curbing the continuance of anything that does not comport to what ought to be in the lives of Christians. That is the first use, not the third!

Moreover, whatever else the Law is doing, it is always accusing! Lex semper accusat! This is because, as the Formula says while discussing the third use, “to reprove is the real function of the law.” Now, if proclamation is what Lutheran preaching is about, and if identification of my  new being as a child of God is what the Gospel gives me, and if “good works are bound to flow from faith,” as our confessions assert, why would we want to put our hearers back under accusation and the terrors of conscience once again at the end of the sermon?

Instead, let me propose that Lutheran preachers consider “Gospel application.” Gospel application is where one goes beyond the statement of Gospel facts, such as “Jesus died for you,” or “in Holy Baptism, people are reborn into the kingdom of grace.” Gospel application occurs when, on the basis of the Gospel facts, the preacher actually forgives sins, when he actually declares, “you are God’s child!” “You are forgiven!” “No one will pluck you out of My hand!” Such Gospel application is simply relieving reflective reasoning of a necessary role in proclamation. We ought not to leave the hearer to draw the immediate application from the general principle. Instead, make Gospel application the summation of your sermon.

– Rev. Robert Schaibley, “Lutheran Preaching: Proclamation, Not Communication”


Tagged , ,

Preach Christ Instead of Preaching About God

The Lutheran assertion that we have just now mentioned, that preaching, in so far as it is Biblical preaching, is God’s own speech to men, is very difficult to maintain in practice. Instead it is very easy to slip into the idea that preaching is only speech about God. Such a slip, once made, gradually alters the picture of God, so that he becomes the far-off deistic God who is remote from the preached word and is only spoken about as we speak about someone who is absent. It does not help to say of God that he is God the Creator, and is near to those who are in distress, if the word of the preacher is not his converse with the men who are assembled there. God is creative and near simply by speaking his Word.

– Gustaf Wingren, “The Living Word” pages 19-20

Tagged ,

Preaching, Kerygma, Death, and Resurrection

Biblical students in non-Lutheran countries who see the New Testament kerygma as centering on the fact of the death and resurrection of Christ may very well be unaware that in using these twin terms, death and resurrection, they have penetrated to the very core of Luther’s theology, to the centre around which all that Luther says revolves, as a wheel on its axle. That applies not only to Luther himself but generally to the whole Lutheran Reformation as it was carried through in several European countries in the sixteenth century. The Reformation principle for preaching was very clear and simple: “to preach” means to convey the content of the Scriptures to listeners, to say that which the Bible itself is saying. God speaks in the Bible, and when the Bible is proclaimed God speaks to men from the pulpit. God’s Word is Christ. so when the Gospel sounds forth it is the living Christ come down among men who listen in faith. If the effort of the modern Biblical theologians is in the right direction, then Luther’s preaching in the years when the Reformation was beginning stands forth as an unusually pure declaration of the New Testament kerygma. Moreover, this sixteenth-century preaching is, in its basic form and type, quite definitely congregational preaching. The Early Christian kerygma of Christ’s work in death and resurrection has demonstrated, as no other factor in human history has, that it holds the power of renewing the Sunday preaching. In analysing the essential nature of preaching it is impossible to overlook that. The message of the cross and the resurrection is the main pillar, not only of missionary preaching, but of preaching in general.

– Gustaf Wingren, “The Living Word”, page 19

Tagged , , , , ,